Lesotho 400 round five preview

PRODUCTION VEHICLES FACE TOUGH TEST ON LESOTHO SUN 400 The scene is set for the Lesotho Sun 400 on September 1 and 2, round five of the Absa Off Road Championship, to provide some of the best racing of the season in the Production Vehicle ...

PRODUCTION VEHICLES FACE TOUGH TEST ON LESOTHO SUN 400

The scene is set for the Lesotho Sun 400 on September 1 and 2, round five of the Absa Off Road Championship, to provide some of the best racing of the season in the Production Vehicle category.

The perennial battle between Nissan and Toyota in the prestige South African Manufacturers Championship is again delicately poised, and Ford joins the two Japanese manufacturers in a head-to-head battle in the premier Super Production Class. Add to that the battles that have developed in Classes D and E of the series, and then throw in a route that will be giving crews sleepless nights and you have the ingredients for a great race.

Toyota currently lead the manufacturers championship but have yet to win this season. The overall wins and SP Class honours have gone to Nissan, with three wins, and Ford and the long knives will be out in the Mountain Kingdom.

Hannes Grobler/Francois Jordaan, with two wins, and Duncan Vos/Ralph Pitchford, winners of the recent Ford Motorite 400, will again spearhead the Proudly South African Nissan Navara challenge, with support from privateers Mark Corbett/Juan Mohr in the Century Property Development Navara. Neil Woolridge/Kenny Skjoldhammer will have back up from Rob Gurney/Graeme Stainbank in the factor Ford Racing Rangers and Mark Cronje/Chris Birkin and Bevan Bertholdt/Robin Houghton will again carry the Castrol Toyota Hilux flag.

Grobler/Jordaan, Woolridge and Skjoldhammer -- who also won the event on two wheels -- Birkin and Houghton will all recall heady and not so heady days on the Roof of Africa. They will all, however, also know that simply making it to the finish on the Lesotho Sun 400 is likely to put you in line for some silverware.

The Castrol Toyota Hilux entries have suffered from reliability problems this season. They might just choose one of the toughest events of the season to spring a shock, but many of the experts will have money on Woolridge and Skjoldhammer.

Most of the credit for Toyota's current slender lead in the manufacturers championship must go to privateers in Classes D and E. Crews in both classes have come up trumps time and again, and Toyota will be looking for more of the same in Lesotho.

Reigning Class E champions Chris Visser/Japie Badenhorst, (Tyco Trucks Toyota Hilux), former Class E champions Hugo and Jaap de Bruyn (Castrol Toyota Hilux) and the father and son pair of Cliff and Louis Weichelt (Bosal Toyota Hilux) deal Toyota a powerful hand in Class D.

Visser/Badenhorst have won three times this season and will start as favourites. The Weichelt's have won once, the de Bruyn's have shown good form in recent outings and a close contest looks to be on the cards.

The Toyota crews, however, will come under sever pressure from Nissan teams who would like to get into the winners enclosure. Coetzee Labuschagne/Johan Gerber (Raysonics Nissan Hardbody), with a 100 percent finish record, have been models of consistency but have been unable to convert reliability into wins.

The BB Auto Nissan Hardbody crews, Arnold du Plessis/Johan Knox and Jurie and Andre du Plessis have had their moments. By and large, however, they will be disappointed with results so far this season and Lesotho would be a great place to get their seasons back on track.

KwaZulu-Natal crew Manfred Schroder and Ward Huxtable are running away with Class E in the factory diesel powered Ford Ranger. The pair have a clear lead over a horde of Toyota crews, and will be heavily favoured in Lesotho.

Brian Martin and Ockie Fourie (Castrol Toyota Hilux) will spearhead the Toyota challenge and after winning the first event of the year will be looking for a return to form. Former track racer Fabio Tafani, accompanied by Mike Baron in the Club Refrigeration Toyota Hilux, finds himself in second place in the championship.

Tafani and Jaco Swanepoel, another former track racer who shares the IDM Cement Toyota Hilux entry with Grayham Bishop, have an interesting experience ahead of them in Lesotho. Mark and Stuart Moffatt (Bosal Toyota Hilux) are due a good result, and George/Sharon Barkhuizen in the Ruwacon entry will also want to come up with good results.

Apart from Schroder/Huxtable in Class E, championship positions in the other classes are tight. Lesotho could be a make or break event for the other championship hopefuls.

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LESOTHO SUN 400 SPECIAL VEHICLE CATEGORY WIDE OPEN

Four events and four different winners in the Special Vehicle category in this year's Absa Off Road Championship give a clear indication of a high level of competition.

With this in mind the prospect of a fifth different winner on the Lesotho Sun 400, round five of the Absa series in the Mountain Kingdom on September 1 and 2, is a real one. These days the Lesotho Sun 400 is a scaled down version of the infamous Roof of Africa Rally, but even in mini guise is going to provide competitors with headaches.

So far this season Brandon Harcus, in a singleseater Motorite BAT, team-mates Evan Hutchison and Achim Bergmann, the father and son combination of Nick and Ryan Harper (Karetek SA BAT) and Gary Bertholdt and Henry Kirstein (Atlas Copco Porter) have all made trips to the winners enclosure. All four teams, with Harcus now joined by Marcelle Trethewey in a twinseater BAT, will again be contenders in Lesotho -- along with half a dozen other teams.

Motorcycle legend Alfie Cox and Hennie ter Stege (Motorite BAT), are due a win after two near misses, while the Sullwald brothers Karl-Heinz and Hermann, Nardus Alberts and Colin Taylor in the Wrapsa BAT, Clint Gibson and Mike Brown (Absolute BAT), Naeem Moosajee and Rayhoon Bodhanya (Tyre Rack Jimco) and reigning champions Terence Marsh and Mike Whitehouse, in the Nashua Mobile BAT, are all capable of winning.

Once again, a fascinating contest is on the cards between the all out speed merchants and those crews inclined to take a more measured approach. On this event, however, the odds look to favour the latter.

This brings a crew like Marsh and Whitehouse right into the reckoning. The pair have a 100 percent finish record this season, but are without a win.

The Lesotho Sun 400 is, however, a race tailor-made for the likes of Marsh and Whitehouse. A lot of the smart money will be on the pair, but this is a race that can turn into a lottery and anyone who makes it to the finish will, in all probability, be in contention.

Much the same scenario exists in Class B where no crew has managed to win twice this season. Off Road newcomers, Jan and Hendrik Kraaij (Keymax BAT) currently lead the class ahead of Swaziland crew John Thompson and Clinton McNamara in a Zarco.

Both crews will again be in contention along with the Adenco BAT entries of Bez Bezuidenhout/Johan de Bruyn and Johan/Etienne Bezuidenhout, Marius van Vuuren and Johan Coetzee (Bosal Zarco) and veteran Giel Nel and Johan Smalberger in the Bosal LUK Truggy.

Former champions Marcus Taylor and Marc de Chalain (JRE) have had a disappointing season so far, and will be looking to make amends. Ernest Corbett and Warwick Goosen (Century Property Development BAT) are also due a return to form but, once again, anyone making it to the finish will be in with a chance of taking home good points.

Class S includes a couple of competitors who have fond and not so fond memories of the Roof of Africa. Richard Schilling is a former Roof winner and Rob Wark a veteran of what was probably the toughest race of its kind in the world, and experience will give them an edge.

Reigning champions Schilling and Chris Davies (Plastotech Aceco) have won twice this year and will be the outright favourites, with Nashua Mobile Raceco pair Archie Rutherford and Craig Doubtfire the biggest threat. After a maiden win on the Ford Motorite 400 Botswana crew Garry Gillingham and Peter van Vuuren (Shell BMW Raceco) will fancy their chances, and Nic Goslar and co driver still to be announced in the Kopanong Hotel Superteam Raceco will hopefully have experience going for them.

Championship issues throughout the Special Vehicle classes are evenly poised. For those with championship aspirations a rich points tally in Lesotho is must.

-credit: msa

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Series Other rally
Drivers Mike Brown , Alfie Cox , Ralph Pitchford , Mark Corbett , John Thompson , Duncan Vos , Japie Badenhorst